- Publisher: JBM Publishing
- Available in: Paperback, Kindle
- ISBN: 978-1543155358
- Published: May 23, 2017
Atticus is the new sci-fi thriller from J.B. Manas, co-author of The Kronos Interference (named to Kirkus Reviews Best of 2012).
Below is a book summary and the first two chapters!
WITHIN ONE MAN’S PAST LIES THE WHOLE WORLD’S FUTURE
A lone British pilot crash lands in a small Pennsylvania town with no memory of who he is or the world-changing secret he possesses—only the name Atticus.
When he’s rescued by rookie female cop Marti Coldwater, who comes to believe he’s from the 1940s, the two find themselves relentlessly pursued by government agents and a mysterious Nordic assassin.
On the run with a stranger who’s displaying increasingly shocking abilities and may be friend or foe, Marti is thrown into a world of highly classified government programs and astonishing alien secrets, including one that now threatens humanity itself.
In this riveting sci-fi thriller from J.B. Manas, co-author of The Kronos Interference, stakes and tension are high as a stranger arrives with no memory and a deadly secret that could wipe out the entire human race. The Kronos Interference earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who named it to their Best of 2012, calling the book “impressively original” and a “tour de force.” Atticus follows Manas’s penchant for writing fast-paced fiction that blends history, science, and adventure into a fun, twisty thrill-ride—this time from the suburbs of Bucks County, Pennsylvania to the volcanic hills of Iceland.
“ATTICUS captured my imagination immediately and I was off on a spaceship-speed ride, disbelief immediately suspended. Interweaving contemporary law enforcement, government agencies, Antarctica, science fiction, and extraterrestrials, this is a “I’ve got to read this in one sitting ’cause I can’t stop” story.”
Into the Abyss Reviews – By Mallory Heart Recommends
“Fast-paced sci-fi fun with timely application. Atticus is a moving story that doesn’t just move, it runs to its conclusion in the best possible way… [Manas] wields words like a master storyteller, not giving away too much while still giving you the complete picture… Atticus is not only brilliant, it’s a timely read, as evil fills our social media and the struggle for good seems hopeless. It isn’t.”
“Move over Alfred Hitchcock! If you love the master of suspense, you will love Atticus. I guarantee you will be spellbound as the reluctant hero encounters a mysterious visitor and gets caught up in an adventure filled with twists, turns, and thrilling suspense, culminating in the final set piece of an Icelandic volcano.”
Paula Berinstein, Story Consultant, Author, and producer/host of The Writing Show podcast
Look What the Wind Blew In
As she passed through the front door of the Ferry Township police station, Marti wasn’t sure what to expect. All she knew was that the captain wanted to see her. She was hoping it was to commend her for talking that lady’s brute of a husband into putting his gun down, which she had to admit was a minor miracle. The way she looked at it, she’d just saved two lives. Plus she kept her emotions in check, which, if nothing else, she could talk about in therapy this week. Whether the captain would see it that way was another story.
Her hands were still shaking. She wasn’t expecting anything like this, especially in this neighborhood. And in her first week on the force, no less. They did warn her it wouldn’t just be investigating burglaries and giving speeding tickets. In fact, the first thing that went through her head when she’d arrived on the scene was that one line she remembered from training: More cops die addressing domestic incidents than all the robberies, drug busts, and gang fights combined.
Thankfully, she survived this one, though she wasn’t sure she could handle any more. After all, the biggest incident in the last five years was when that huge Asian guy with a rifle was spotted running by the Green Parrot, and that turned out to be a movie shoot. Then again, there was her own incident several years prior. It made her ill just to think about it.
“He’s in the back,” said Helen, rearranging her assorted canine bobbleheads at the front desk. “Have fun.”
“I’m sure I will. By the way, I thought you said nothing happens around here.”
Helen was busy moving the Doberman next to the Saint Bernard.
“Beginners luck, I guess,” she said, straightening the two dogs.
“Some luck,” said Marti.
She was still getting used to the place. As she walked around Helen’s desk and past the other desks, she noticed Crawford filling out paperwork. She knew he resented her being hired, so she avoided eye contact.
“There goes Coldwater,” whispered some guy she didn’t recognize who was standing behind Crawford. Just as she passed, she could hear him whisper, “I’d like to pour some cold water on her, if you know what I mean.”
As if she hadn’t heard that before. She kept her head down and continued on. Taking this job was turning into a huge mistake, but she had to remember why she was doing it. And it wasn’t because she had any kind of wish to be a cop.
When she got to the far wall, Captain Brody’s door was open, so she walked right in. All she saw was the top of his bald head as he appeared to be studying a report on his desk. As she sat down, he glanced up and took his black-rimmed glasses off.
“Stockholm Syndrome,” he said.
“Excuse me?” For a minute, she thought maybe he dug up information from her past.
“That’s what they call it when someone gets attached to the person who’s abusing them. That’s why that guy’s wife was so mad you arrested him. You’re damn lucky you got him to put the gun down.”
“So I did good, then.” She smiled, almost forgetting for a second that she felt like an outsider here.
“Actually, no. You did absolutely, horribly, shitty. That’s why I called you here. What do you do when a guy has a gun pointed at you?”
“Listen, Captain Br—”
“Mike. I told you before, just call me Mike.”
“Okay, Mike. I know what they said in training, but the gun wasn’t pointed at me.”
“Sure it was. It’s a good thing Crawford showed up.”
“Okay, he was holding it,” she said. “But it wasn’t pointed directly at me. Plus, I had him talking.”
“You were arguing with him about restaurants for Chrissakes. With a gun!”
“He put it down though.”
“Because Crawford showed up.”
“Crawford almost got us both k—”
“You’re missing the point,” he said. “Whatever the situation was, when a guy has a gun and he ignores orders to put it down, you have to put him down. Period.” He banged his knuckles on the desk for emphasis, making her jump. “I mean it. If every officer here waited to see whether a guy with a gun was really serious about killing them, we’d have a bunch of dead cops on our hands. Luckily, this doesn’t happen every day around here, but when it does, it has to be handled by the book. You get that, right?”
“Yes, I get it.” It was obvious he didn’t want an explanation.
“Really? You don’t seem like it.”
“No really, I do.”
“Good then.” He flashed an insincere smile, put his glasses back on, and picked up a silver pen. “Now, just so you know, I have no choice but to sign this report. It’ll be in your records, and it comes with a three day suspension and a ninety day probation. That’s the rules here, I can’t break ‘em for you.”
“It’s okay, I don’t expect you to.” She felt this was incredibly unfair, but she wasn’t about to argue with him.
“I’ll need your weapon and your badge. You’ll get them back in three days.”
She unpinned her badge and placed it on his desk, then unholstered her pistol and did the same. She started to get up to leave, but Brody said, “Hold up, there’s one more thing.”
As she returned to her seat, she couldn’t imagine what else he’d have to tell her. Then he dropped the bomb.
“When you come back,” he said, “I’m teaming you up with Frank for a while.”
“You’re kidding. You can’t do that.” She could feel the blood rushing to her face.
“I think I just did.”
“Isn’t there anyone else you can team me with? Worthington, maybe?”
“Listen, I know you two aren’t exactly buddies, but Frank’s the best we’ve got. And believe me, you have a lot to learn. He may be an old-timer, but he’s seen it all. He was a Philly cop back—”
“I know his background, but the point is he doesn’t even want me here in the first place.”
“He has his reasons. Anyway, it’s not up for discussion. The decision’s already made. Now you can go.”
Marti was in a daze as she stood up to leave. Just what she needed, to be working with Frank.
“Hey Marti,” said the captain.
She turned around.
“What’s a young, pretty girl like you doing here anyway? I don’t get it. There are a lot safer careers out there.”
“Some people don’t have a choice,” she said. She wasn’t lying. This wouldn’t have been her first choice. It wouldn’t have even been her ninetieth choice. But when her mom got that diagnosis, she spent weeks trying to figure what careers could pay you during training and offer health insurance. Nursing school just wasn’t going to pay the bills, much as she loved it. All she’d ever wanted was to be able to help people; to make a difference. As a nurse she could’ve done that. But as a cop? She wasn’t so sure. At least at this precinct, it didn’t seem to be about that. She had to keep reminding herself that this was temporary—a necessary evil. She just didn’t count on the boys’ club at the station, or how dangerous the job really was, even in a town as small as this. Worse yet, that idiot will probably go free because his wife won’t press charges. Guys like that always go free.
As she went to her locker to change into her regular clothes, she thought about what it was going to be like working with Frank. If things were bad now, they’d be even worse later. At least she’d have a few days off to decompress.
After she changed, she made her way back past the desks, feeling like everyone was staring at her. That’s when she heard a loud buzz, like a heavy truck going by. Or maybe it was a big helicopter flying overhead. At first she ignored it, but it grew louder. Then the room started vibrating.
“What the hell is that?” said Crawford, getting up from his desk.
Marti headed toward the front door to see if anything was going on outside.
“We never get earthquakes here,” said a pudgy, red-headed cop Marti didn’t know. “Other than that one about five years ago. Wouldn’t you know, I was in a candy store and all the jelly beans started shaking.”
Helen was standing at the front door, holding it open. “That’s no earthquake,” she said, as the noise quieted down.
Marti stepped outside with her and followed Helen’s eyes to the ground. There was some kind of dark red ash spread all over the lawn and sidewalk for as far as she could see.
“What the hell?” said Marti.
“Bet you anything it’s chemtrails,” said Helen.
“Don’t you read the news? Those damn jets spraying stuff everywhere. Who knows what it really is. Didn’t you ever see those clouds coming from those jets? That’s chemtrails.”
“Actually, I think that’s condensation.”
“Sure, you go ahead and believe that. That’s what the government wants you to think. You have a lot to learn.”
“That seems to be the consensus today.” Marti had to admit it was less painful coming from a conspiracy theorist.
“Besides,” said Helen, “how do you explain that?” She pointed around to all the red ash.
Marti shook her head. Admittedly, this was weird… like, apocalypse weird. Given all the events of today and now this, she thought of that line from John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
As Helen went back inside, Marti proceeded to her tan Fiat. She fell in love with that car the moment she saw it. It reminded her of zipping around in some fancy European city. Right now, she’d settle for anything but a police car. Red ash or no red ash, she was off-duty and was determined to enjoy the rest of the day. Maybe some shopping would cheer her up. Nordstrom was having a sale.
After settling into the driver’s seat, she gave her hair a quick comb in the mirror. She was getting tired of her boring, dark brown hair, so she made a mental note to get highlights—or maybe an ombre. At least it was straight. God bless flat irons.
Just as she pulled out onto the road and turned on the radio, the phone rang through the car speakers.
“Mom?” she said. “Everything okay?”
“Of course it is. I just wanted to see how your day went.” She sounded like she was half asleep.
“You don’t sound okay. Were you sleeping?”
“It’s the new treatments. They make me tired, that’s all.”
“Are they working?”
“We’ll find out.”
“Well, did they tell you—”
“Marti, I didn’t call to talk about me. I want to know how you’re doing there.”
“Fine, I’m actually heading home now. I got off early. More time away from the boy’s club. Did you hear that noise outside?”
“Never mind. Feel up to a shopping trip? Maybe Willow Grove?”
Marti turned right through Wilshire Farms. She always loved the open farmland around there.
“Maybe this weekend. You go and enjoy yourself.”
“Now you’re starting to worry me. I need you to talk to me about what’s happening.”
“As soon as you start talking to me. I know you’re not fine. I have that mom bullshit detector you know.”
“I think I inherited —wait… deer.” She slammed the brakes as two deer darted across the road in front of her. Her car skidded slightly to the side.
“Dear what? Are you okay?”
“No, I said deer. I almost hit two deer.” Her heart was pounding, but she pulled back onto the road. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any more. “I hate those damn things,” she added.
“They’re cute though.”
“Sure, until one of their antlers comes through your front window and turns you into a shish kabob.”
“Hey, my car’s acting weird.” She suddenly began having trouble holding the wheel as it shifted from side to side. What now? There were no other cars around, so she tried to pull to the right shoulder.
“Maybe it was the deer.”
“No, it’s not that. My car’s moving.” She could feel her car being pushed sideways. It almost felt like a tornado, but it was a nice fall afternoon. Her car started to lift. “What the—”
“Marti! What’s going on?”
She grabbed the wheel as her car spun out of control, practically gliding to the side of the road and down a small ditch. She could barely register her mom calling her name from the speaker, as the force pushed her hard toward the passenger seat. Then the car jerked forward and she felt the seat belt pull her back as it finally came to an abrupt halt. At least the airbag didn’t deploy, but she was still gripping the steering wheel like her hands were frozen to it. She couldn’t imagine what could have caused such a forceful wind. That’s when she saw something odd.
A small crop plane or something was falling silently from the sky, maybe a couple hundred yards away. It was shiny and silver, whatever it was, and was descending in a steep, vertical drop toward the middle of a field. She wondered if that was what caused the red ash. And could that small thing have caused such a draft? Then again, it was more likely that the same gust that blew her car over also knocked the plane out of the sky.
Her hands shook as she opened the car door and got out, glad to be on solid ground. She watched as the plane fell in the distance, seemingly in slow motion. When it finally hit the ground, there was no fireball or explosion, just a dull thud that echoed all the way to where she was standing. The noise of the crash sent ripples through her spine. She couldn’t imagine being the pilot falling helplessly to his death. It was hard enough having her car blow off the road. She wondered if he could have survived somehow. Maybe he ejected.
Though it was starting to get dark, she could still see pretty well. She jogged across the field toward the crash site, almost afraid of what she might find. There wasn’t a soul around; there rarely was in this area. All she could hear was the sound of her feet pummeling the dry grass, and the occasional horse whinnying from off to the right somewhere, where a run-down looking white barn stood. She stopped every so often to catch her breath, as she was still shaken up from the accident. She wished she’d stopped at the Wawa by the station to pick up a water bottle, as her lips were dry in the cool air.
As she got closer, she could finally make out the object about fifty feet ahead. It looked mostly intact. She swallowed as she approached. As long as there wasn’t a lot of blood, she’d be okay. Otherwise, she’d probably vomit and then pass out. Or vice-versa. She realized she’d picked the wrong career twice—both in nursing school and as a cop.
Approaching the crash, she could see this was no ordinary plane and it wasn’t a crop duster. It looked like some kind of sleek military craft, much smaller than one of those single engine planes. The wings were rounded off and short. While she was no aeronautical engineer, it looked to her like this machine had no business flying in the first place. There wasn’t even a propeller or engine that she could see. More importantly, there wasn’t a pilot, or even a place for a pilot to sit. This had to be some kind of military experiment. She wondered for a moment if crazy Helen was right. But what kind of plane with no engine or pilot and barely any wings can not only fly, but packs a draft powerful enough to run her car off the road?
Just then, a big part of the plane’s side fell open with a whoosh, revealing a hidden compartment. How on Earth—? There didn’t even seem to be any hinges or cracks for a compartment to open. She stepped back a few feet and could feel her legs weakening. Just as she was trying to decide if it was safe to even be here, a man rolled out of the compartment and onto the grass, groaning. Marti didn’t know whether to run for help or wait to see if he was okay. It bothered her that her first thought was to kick him in the head. Geez, Marti, you run to a crash site like a good samaritan and then you want to kick the injured man in the head? At least she had the good sense not to do it.
The man got to his knees and tried to stand. He looked to be in his early thirties, clean shaven with dark hair and pronounced cheekbones. He peered up at her cautiously as he staggered, barely able to speak. She couldn’t tell if he was drunk, injured, or both, but there was an intelligence about him. She could see it in his eyes. At first, she thought he had emerald eyes like her, but then they looked blue. Or maybe one was blue and the other green. He was wearing a golden tan military cargo jacket that looked like it had seen better days. It was a heavy jacket with a high collar, and a hood resting behind his head. As he stood, she could see he also had on a cream-colored turtleneck, and was wearing khaki pants and black boots. She couldn’t tell if he was military or not, but it seemed as though he’d been through a war, judging by the condition of his jacket. He hardly looked like a drunk, but he sure didn’t look like a pilot either. At least not in that shape, and having been lying in a side compartment.
“Are you okay?” she said. “You shouldn’t be standing.”
“I’m… not… quite…” His deep voice tailed off and then he collapsed onto the ground. It sounded like he was British. Maybe today wouldn’t turn out so bad after all. That’s if he didn’t die. She bent down and tried to gently revive him. She knew from nursing school not to try to move him, but keeping him awake was critical. He was breathing, so that was a good sign, but he wasn’t waking. She felt his pulse, which was strong. Her best bet would be to go back to the car and phone for help. She started walking back to where her car was, but had barely gone thirty feet when she heard more groaning behind her. She turned around to see the stranger getting up again, so she ran back.
“I was going for help,” she said.
“I—I don’t know what happened,” said the Englishman, standing up and brushing off his jacket.
“You’re British,” she said, stating the obvious. Duh, Marti. It occurred to her that it’s like telling Captain Brody that he’s bald.
“If you say so,” said the man. “The truth is, I can’t seem to remember much of anything, least of all how I got here.”
“What kind of plane is that?”
“Dunno. Not a good one I suppose.” He leaned against it for support.
“Do you know your name?”
He looked around as if in a fog, like he was seeing the world for the first time.
“No,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Odd name for a girl.”
“It’s spelled with an ‘I.’ Do you remember anything about yourself?”
He shook his head. “It’s strange,” he said. “Nothing seems familiar. Where am I?”
“You’re in Ferry Township. It’s in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.”
“The United States.”
“Yes, so you know that at least. That’s good. That’s a start.”
“How the devil did I get to the United States?” he said, looking around like he was in Oz. “Never mind, you wouldn’t bloody well know, would you?”
“If you want to wait here, I can go to my car and phone for an ambulance to get you to a hospital.”
“From your car?” He seemed surprised she’d even suggest that.
“Yes, I left my cell phone there.”
He tilted his head the way her dog does when he’s confused. “Cell… phone,” he repeated, enunciating each word.
Either this guy had severe head trauma or he seriously didn’t know what a cell phone was.
“You’re kidding, right? You don’t know what a cell phone is?”
“I’m afraid not, but it sounds like I should.”
“Okay,” she said, pausing to take a deep breath. “You don’t remember cell phones. You think it’s weird that I can call from my car. What year do you think it is?”
He stood there thinking—for too long, as far as she was concerned. “What year?” she repeated.
He shook his head. “I can’t remember.”
Marti exhaled. She would have died if he said 1940 or something.
“I think I’m fine walking now,” he said. “Let’s go to your car.”
“Are you sure, you should really—”
“Trust me, I’m sure. I need to walk this off.”
“I don’t know how you walk off a plane crash,” she said, “but sure. Suit yourself.” Actually, she wasn’t quite sure if she did trust him. The more she thought about it, for all she knew, he could try to kill her in her car. She was still dealing with her trust issues anyway, and this was a case where things could really go wrong. Still, something about him seemed different. He reminded her of poor Adam, that’s what it was. Regardless, she might have felt a little safer if she had her police uniform and gun.
He kept up with her as they made their way in silence toward her Fiat, with only the sound of their footsteps against the dry grass as a backdrop for her thoughts.
“It’s just a little ways more to the car,” she said. She didn’t want to get into the whole story about the wind blowing her car off the road. He wouldn’t remember anything anyway. Or would he? She decided to ask.
“Listen, um… I still don’t know what to call you. But do you remember a strong wind hitting your plane as you were flying?”
More silence. He wasn’t much of a talker. That’s when she realized he was no longer beside her. She turned around to see him standing several yards back, gazing blankly up and to the right as if recalling something.
“Are you remembering something?” she said.
He stopped to look at her. “Atticus,” he said.
“Atticus, what’s that? The plane?”
“I think it’s my name. I’m not sure, it’s still foggy. I’m remembering something else, though, too.” He once again stared vacantly at an imaginary world.
“What do you see?” she said.
“Snow,” he said.
“Yes, and lots of it.” His forehead crinkled like he was struggling to recall more. “I remember boots… our feet were frozen. And gunfire. It was far away at first, but then it got closer.” He said it so matter-of-factly, it was as if he was remembering an old movie rather than a real battle. He knelt to the ground and touched his hand to the grass as if to make sure it really existed.
“Were you in the military?”
“I think so,” he said, shaking it off and getting back up. “I can even see faces, but no names come to mind.”
“What do they look like?”
“Dunno,” he said. “Two eyes, a nose and a mouth. What does anyone bloody look like? Old, young, women, men. I don’t know any of them.” He got up again and followed her, apparently not wanting to talk about it anymore.
She could sense his frustration, but she wanted to try to help. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to wake up in a strange place and not know anything. She wondered what kind of wars were being fought in the snow these days. Certainly not in the Middle East, though she was no world traveler. Maybe Russia? More importantly, how did he get here in Bucks County inside what was obviously a futuristic craft? He had to be military. But he was British. This whole thing didn’t make sense.
They finally got to her car. She couldn’t help but see that he was gawking at her stylish Fiat in amazement as he approached the driver’s side.”
“Wrong side,” she said.
He stopped in his tracks and turned around to walk to the passenger’s side, just as she approached. She sidestepped to the right to let him pass, but he awkwardly stepped in the same direction at the same time.
“After you,” he said, allowing her to pass while he stood still.
She continued and climbed into the driver’s side as made his way around and settled into the passenger’s side.
He marveled at her dashboard as if it was a UFO control panel, touching it gently.
“So strange,” he said.
Marti picked up her cell phone and saw she had twelve texts and ten calls from her mom. Her mom! She forgot all about her. Marti pressed the “call back” button.
“Thank God, I was worried sick,” said her mom as soon as she answered.
“You won’t believe what happened,” said Marti. “I’m so sorry, I was in an accident.”
“I’m fine. I can’t talk about it now, but I have a guest in my car. His name’s Atticus. I guess my shopping will have to wait anyway. I need to take him to a hospital.”
“Atticus? Like in Atticus Finch?”
“Yes, it’s a long story. I’ll call you when I know more. But I’ll be home soon to see how you’re really doing, okay?”
“Is he cute?”
“Gotta go, Mom.” Marti fumbled trying to end the call, hoping Atticus didn’t hear that. As soon as she hung up the phone, she could sense him looking at her as she drove back onto the road.
“Atticus Finch?” he said.
“It’s from a book. Listen, I’m gonna take you to a hospital. Maybe they can get your memory back. But I really want to know where that plane came from. Where you came from.”
“You and I both,” he said. “I appreciate your help.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “No offense, but this whole situation is making me nuts. You come in that spaceship plane thingy, crazy winds blow my car off the road, red ash is all over the streets. And to be totally honest, I don’t even know if you’re a good guy or a bad guy. Or maybe you’re just some military dude following orders, doing something we’re not supposed to know about. Like those… chemtrail things. You know?”
He didn’t answer. She wondered if she upset him. She glanced over, and he was just staring straight ahead.
“Are you okay?” she said.
He looked toward her in silence.
“Atticus, are you okay?” she repeated.
“I remember now,” he said, calmly as could be, as if he just remembered where he put his watch.
“The year. It’s 1944.”
Change of Plans
Marti almost slammed the brakes again, but this time there were no deer. How could he think it was 1944? It was as if he’d been in a coma for the past seventy years, but then he’d look a lot older. Unless he’d been cryogenically frozen or something, but that didn’t sound like a reasonable explanation either. As far as she knew, nobody’s ever been frozen and brought back. And that Walt Disney rumor was just an urban legend. More likely, it was just head trauma. He was probably remembering some old history book or war movie. Maybe he was a teacher. But then that wouldn’t explain the modern aircraft he was in. Or was it a spacecraft? Nothing was making sense. Maybe once he was treated at a hospital, his memory would come back and she’d find out once and for all. She decided to stay calm for now. Maybe break things to him gently.
“Atticus,” she said. “Can I call you that, or should I call you Atty or something?”
He smiled for the first time, a reassuring smile that she figured only a decent guy could have. “Atticus is fine.”
“The year happens to be 2016,” she said as she turned left onto Route 532.
“Two-thousand and sixteen,” he repeated with emphasis, as if someone just told him there were 33 grams of fat in a Big Mac. “Interesting.”
“You don’t seem too surprised.”
“No, I am. But I guess one year’s the same as the next for me right now. It’s quite odd having an empty head. You should try it sometime.”
“Then I could run for politics.”
“Where absurdity is not a handicap,” he said.
“I like that,” she said. “Did you make it up?”
“Napoleon did. Wait a minute. Politics. That reminds me. Another name. Mary Welsh, Time Magazine. I think it may be someone I know.”
“That’s great. Let’s remember to tell the hospital that,” she said as she passed Route 332, immediately remembering she was supposed to turn there.
“Better hold on,” she said, as she made a quick left onto a small road, the car skidding sideways as she turned. It was a shortcut she remembered that led through a field and ultimately back onto 332. She was really putting her little car through the wringer today.
“I think I was safer in the plane,” he said.
She was about to respond but noticed in the rear view mirror that another car also made the quick turn after her. It was a black SUV with tinted windows. As she sped up, the SUV followed suit. She kept an eye on it in the mirror as she accelerated to see if it would do the same.
She didn’t like being on such an empty, winding road with such an aggressive driver following her, but this seemed more than just aggressive driving. She was pretty sure the SUV was following her. But for how long, and why?
“I think that car behind us is tailing us,” she said. She wished she still had her uniform and weapon, not that she would have gotten out of the car. At least not until she could see who was in it.
Just then, the SUV sped up with a jolt. Like a rocket, it approached on the left in the oncoming lane. Marti’s heart went from sixty to a hundred and twenty in two seconds as she slammed her foot on the gas pedal. She raced ahead, and then a loud noise against the back of the car made her jump.
“Holy shit, they’re firing at us!” she said.
“So I see,” said Atticus, who seemed calm as could be.
Marti kept her foot pressed hard on the gas pedal and watched the speedometer go past 100, which was pushing it for a Fiat. The SUV was right behind them. She gripped the wheel hard, afraid she’d lose control of the car on the winding road. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Atticus undoing his seat belt.
“What the hell are you doing?” she said.
He ignored her, instead fumbling around the side of the car door.
“Where’s the damn crank?” he said.
“The crank! The window crank.”
“What? Why do you—”
Before she could finish the sentence, a rapid series of loud cracks startled her from the back of the car.
“Just tell me!” he shouted over the gunfire.
She pointed to the center console. “Just press the button.”
“Which one? There are a thousand buttons. I had less on the plane!”
“That one,” she said.
As the passenger window lowered, Atticus waved for the car to come up on the passenger side.
“Don’t do that!” said Marti. She couldn’t imagine why he would have done that. Did he have a death wish?
Another shot fired at the rear of the car.
“They’re not trying to kill us,” said Atticus. “They’re shooting at the tires.”
“Oh that’s a relief,” she said.
“You may want to slow down,” he said.
“Are you crazy?”
“Let them catch up.”
“You may want to die,” she yelled, “but I don’t.” Her heart was pounding through her chest.
“Just do it,” he yelled over the noise of the road. “Trust me.”
She had no idea why she was listening to a man with a head injury, but she eased up on the accelerator. As soon as she did that, she could see the SUV approaching again, this time on the right. That’s when Atticus did something crazy. He opened his car door, holding onto it as it swung out. Before she could yell anything, he jumped onto the SUV’s running board and jabbed something multiple times into the open, driver’s side window. She sped up to pass them, not wanting to risk any bullets flying in through her open passenger door.
What on earth was he thinking? What could he possibly do against a speeding car full of men with guns? Her only goal now was to get away as fast as possible.
As she floored the gas pedal, the passenger door swung shut. She glanced in her rear view mirror just in time to see the SUV run off the road and right into a pole. She hit the brakes and turned the wheel to the right, just barely avoiding tipping over as her car skidded around and came to a halt. She made a mental note not to try that again. At least now she could see what was going on through the open passenger window.
The SUV was smashed up against the pole, and somehow Atticus was standing near it. She could see Atticus walk back to the driver’s side of the SUV and grab the gun out of the driver’s limp hand. Two men wearing black emerged from the other side of the SUV, guns drawn. But they hesitated for some reason. In a split second, Atticus shot them both in the head, the sound of the gunfire echoing in the quiet road. Then he walked calmly to the driver’s door, aimed the gun and shot once. The fine hairs on her arms stood up as she watched Atticus stand there for a second, apparently examining the scene. He casually tossed the gun into the field and turned to walk back toward her car, as calm as could be.
Marti could barely catch her breath. She was still shaking from the terror of the whole experience. So why did Atticus seem like he was returning from shopping?
As he continued walking toward her car, she tried to process just what she saw. The guys in that SUV had hesitated. Now she understood what Captain Brody was talking about. You hesitate, you die. But more importantly, Atticus killed them execution-style, like a hitman would do. Or a trained agent. Maybe that’s why they were chasing him. Maybe he’s that dangerous. Clearly there was something unusual about him, and it couldn’t have been a coincidence they were following her car. Somehow, they had to know he was in it, even though she didn’t see anyone in the area at the crash site.
The big question now was whether to drive off and be done with this, or take him to the hospital and hope he didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve. On one hand, if he was going to kill her, he probably would have done it by now, and he did just save her life. Or did he? Even he said they were shooting at the tires. And it was doubtful they were after her. It looked like they were just after him and they wanted to take him alive. But he didn’t give them that chance.
Her hand was shaking as she put the car in drive just as he approached the passenger door. She was about to take off, but something made her stop. Foolish or not, or maybe because she was frozen in fear, she waited until he got into the passenger seat and closed the car door. Now there was no choice.
She glanced over at Atticus. He was sweating a little but didn’t seem the slightest bit shaken. As she pulled back onto the road, she saw him reach for a hidden object from his right side, and her heart almost stopped. Then he revealed it and put it on the floor in front of him. It was her umbrella.
“You took out the driver with my umbrella?” she said. “That’s rather Penguin of you.”
“Penguin?” he said, looking at the umbrella.
“It’s a—wait, never mind that. You just killed a carload of people.”
“With a boatload of guns,” he said.
“But you said they weren’t trying to kill us.”
“Not right away. And besides, what if I was wrong?”
“But they hesitated.”
“Yes, that was lucky, wasn’t it? They thought I was unarmed.”
She shook her head as she pulled onto Route 332. He didn’t even seem phased by any of this.
“You don’t even care, do you?” she said.
“Frankly, no. It’s not like they were old friends. At least I hope not.”
“No, I mean about who you are. How you can do all this.”
“Oh, that,” he said. “Yes, of course I want to know. I’m as curious as you are.”
“Curious?” She thought that was an odd choice of words. Any normal person would be in a panic. Or at least in a daze. “You do know that people can’t just do what you did,” she said. “Jump on a car like that.”
“I think it’s called adrenaline.”
The more she thought about it, she wondered if he really did have amnesia. He seemed too calm—too alert—for someone with no memory. She felt like she was being played.
“I’m not taking you to the hospital,” she said, as she made a U-turn. That was something she had decided upon there and then.
“No?” he said. “Where are we going then?”
“The police station. I think we should go there first so they can run checks on you.”
She held her breath waiting for how he’d react. He was silent for a moment, and just seemed to be staring out the front window observing the scenery.
“I suppose that makes sense,” he said.
“There’s something else I need to tell you,” she said.
He looked at her.
“I’m a police officer.”
She glanced over again to see his reaction. He was smiling.
“You?” he said, as if he didn’t believe it.
“Is that funny?”
“No,” he said. “I’m sorry. It’s just that you don’t look the type.”
“And what type is that?”
“The male type. The older type. The rough type. And probably the ugly type.”
“Well, I am,” she said. “A cop, I mean. Not those other things. And we’re going to the police station. So I hope that’s okay with you.”
“Are you asking me?” he said.
“Yes.” She wasn’t sure why she said that, but she felt like she needed to know his answer.
He hesitated a little too long, before finally saying, “It’s fine. Of course.”
Marti wondered who this strange man was who’d arrived in the hidden cargo compartment of what was basically a UFO, thinks it’s 1944, and had just used superhuman abilities to kill all those men. Sure, the men were chasing them—or more likely, chasing him. But they may have had good reason, especially seeing what he could do. She just wished she knew what his game was. She’d find out soon enough. She just wasn’t sure what she was more afraid of—how the guys at the station would handle him, or what he’d do to them if he felt threatened.